The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing an electronic system for tracking hazardous waste shipments. EPA recently finalized a rule to authorize the use of electronic manifests (e-Manifests); a subsequent rule will establish fees. The agency is up against an October 2015 statutory deadline to have the system operational, per the 2012 Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act. The electronic system will apply in lieu of inconsistent state programs.
The rule establishes the legal and policy framework for using e-Manifests. However, several more steps must be taken before the e-Manifest program can be fully implemented, namely working out the technical details of system design, operation, and security as well as the initial fee structure. EPA says it currently plans to host the e-Manifest system on EPA’s Central Data Exchange/National Environmental Exchange Network architecture, or something equivalent, thereby establishing a first-time national repository of manifest data that would be accessible by states and the public. Once the e-Manifest system is designed (most of the implementation details will be decided through the terms of a vendor contract), EPA will issue a second rule to establish the user fee schedule.
The new rule specifies that the e-Manifest documents obtained from the national system EPA is developing would be the legal equivalent of the paper forms that are currently being used to track hazardous waste shipments. Waste generators and transporters can opt to continue to use paper documents, but the paper manifests would need to be submitted to EPA for inclusion in the electronic system. The rule also specifies how issues of public access to manifest information will be addressed when manifest data are submitted and processed electronically.
The e-Manifest program is the vanguard of the EPA-wide initiative to provide the agency, states and the public with easier access to environmental data. (See related AGC article on two separate EPA proposals to broadcast site-specific stormwater control information over the Internet.) Electronic reporting increases the likelihood of enforcement, given the increased availability of data and ease of data analysis. On the benefits side, EPA estimates the national e-Manifest system will reduce the burden associated with preparing shipping manifests by between 300,000 and 700,000 hours, and save states and industry more than $75 million per year.
Some stakeholders have expressed concern about what the fee structure will look like and how the system will work. For example, the American Petroleum Institute believes the EPA's e-Manifest system will require unnecessary recordkeeping and reporting and conflict with the U.S. Department of Transportation hazardous material requirements. (EPA acknowledges that it still will be necessary to carry a printed copy of the e-Manifest on the transport vehicle during the transportation of hazardous wastes that are subject to the hazardous materials regulations, 49 CFR parts 171-180 (HMR), thereby meeting DOT shipping paper requirements.)
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires hazardous waste shipments be accompanied by a manifest from point of origin to their final destinations as part of its cradle-to-grave management of hazardous waste under RCRA Subtitle C. Currently, multiple copies of paper manifests are used.
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